[Ir?]Relevance.

Been ruminating on this one for a while (isn’t it funny how deep personal understanding of a word can make it at once more crude and more perfectly appropriate?) anyway, I’ve been ruminating on relevance. And I’m becoming convinced that more than interest, more than engagement, more than challenge or even feedback, relevance is the key to motivation in education.

rel-e-vance : relation to the matter at hand : PERTINANCE

per-ti-nent : [from L to reach, belong] : to belong to something as a care or concern or duty, to have reference to, to be appropriate or suitable for application.

Relevant material is suitable for application to the matter at hand. Relevant instruction carries with it care and concern, a duty to relate to the matter at hand. So, what is the matter at hand? I think it’s deceptively simple. In that way that makes it really easy to answer that question in a workshop (or a comments section) and yet still be baffled when it comes to actually doing it. I think the “matter at hand,” for students of all ages all over the world is simply LIFE. Continue reading

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A Singlular Experience…

Just started what might be to coolest class of my graduate career. (Oh, forgive me, second coolest, professor _______ .)

Just to give you a taste, this is a quick run-down of my discussion group (about a quarter of the participants in the class):

Vasileios Paliktzoglou – Greece
Frank Kiel – Germany
Johan Hellström – Sweden (in Uganda)
SaraJoy Pond – USA
Andrés Moreno – Spain (in Finland/Sri Lanka/Kenya)
Xavier Justino Muianga – Mozambique
Thai Bui – Viet Nam
Sören Norrgård – Finland
Rajarshi Sahai – India
Lenandlar Singh (Len) – Guyana

Notice anything? I am the ONLY American! (I’m also the only woman. Somehow I don’t find that quite as exhilarating…perhaps I should.)

I am so excited to be part of an active discussion on issues I am completely passionate about (using information and communication technologies for development) with people from all over the world, who are all commited to (and unquestionably capable of) changing the world.

If you’re interested, the class is using the ICT4D Consortium’s Elgg site as a discussion forum. I can’t imagine anyone would object to lurkers…or even sporadic contributions.

Woah.

(hmm…looks like in the insanity that was the last 10 days I forgot to hit publish on this one. Old news now, but still kinda cool.)

http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/03/08/wolfram-alpha-computes-answers-to-factual-questions-this-is-going-to-be-big/

“Ye Have Need of Patience”

I’ve been vexed all week. Really, vexed.

Here’s a selection of the blog posts I didn’t write this week: “Why Open Education Won’t Save the World,” “Lurking and Ignorance in Qualitative Research” and “The Malignant Delusion of Educational Assessment.”

Like I said… vexed.

I don’t know how to take the mass of largely useless lecture notes that is open education today and turn it into something that will create intrinsic value for universities AND actually contribute to the self-actualization of a micro-entrepreneur in Mozambique. I don’t know how to get useful instructional direction from formulaic “objective” statements or how to write a test item that actually taps higher-order thinking (heck, the textbook can’t even do it!) Let alone how to change the morally and logically bankrupt system that says standardized tests somehow indicate the worth and quality of schools, teachers, and children. All the problems just seem too complex, too convoluted, too entrenched, too intractable, too freaking HUGE.

David told us a story this week about a time when everything got to be too much and Stephen Downes just sort of disappeared for 6 months. He got choked up talking about how it changed things, how he needed that foil, that critique. I haven’t struggled with these problems long enough, let alone come up with any ideas or opinions significant enough to be needed or missed, but I was vexed this week. And sad. And already tired.

Last night, I thought of that story, and I listened to this. I still don’t have any answers. Nothing is any clearer, brighter, or easier. But “we are not of them that draw back,” are we?

Nope.

Sensory Memories

I call them sensory memories because I don’t have any other word for them. They are moments engrained in me…not even memories really, because I don’t think about them…I don’t remember them. I smell them. I taste them. I hear them. They’re just irrevocably there–fixed on my senses like nuclear-etched shadows on the walls in Nagasaki.

I remember the first time I drove our three-wheeled ATV in 5th gear; pulling my lips in from an ear-to-ear grin over teeth that were suddenly dry…and cold, as created wind licked summer sweat from my hairline and the back of my neck, and knowing what it would feel like to fly.

I remember one crystal windchime of laughter that sort of shimmered in the air for stretched-out seconds after a piece of angel hair pasta had flicked my nose during dinner in a warm Italian restaurant…like that one magical laugh from the girl standing next to the white fireplace mantle at the beach house in All the King’s Men.

I also remember being smacked from behind by the explosive, wrenching, metallic scream of a minor fender-bender in our 15-passenger van—a sound utterly absent from the memory of an earlier accident that could have killed me.

I remember deep, un-crushable softness under my hands on my lap the first time I wore my velvet “baptism day” dress, and tiny needle-teeth squirming deep in the muscles of my right hand for days after the first (and only) time I disregarded Dad’s warning about fiberglass and gloves.

And I remember the taste of Mediterranean sea salt caramel gelato slipping over the different zones of my tongue the day we got Michael his first French-cuff shirt.

I’m intrigued that so few of these experiences are visual, tied to what I would consider my dominant sense. I’m puzzled that they can be so vivid, so visceral, without being connected to any particularly intense emotion. And I’m pleased that some of these memories are so recent—that my senses can still be stunned by bursts of wonder.

Those are a few of my sensory memories.
What are yours?

How to “Help” Zimbabwe?

“Draft a plan to help Zimbabwe if Mugabe were removed from power and your NGO were invited in to help.”

That was the prompt for my Third World Development class final. No joke.

As of 9am this morning, cholera deaths in Zimbabwe have officially topped 1,000. UN health officials estimate more than 16,000 are infected, but hospitals have run out of medications and supplies for treatment. (Oh, and Mugabe is claiming that the outbreak—soon to become an epidemic—is the work of British terrorists.) Unemployment is climbing toward 90%, life expectancy falling toward 30 (it’s really difficult for me to imagine having 2 years left to live at this stage of my life) and the price of basic goods like bread, milk and sugar doubles every 24 hours, thanks to an inflation rate near 2,000,000%. More than 3 million Zimbabweans have fled the oppressive regime, causing refugee crises and escalating tensions in neighboring South Africa, Botswana and Zambia. And in a nation formerly known as “the breadbasket of Africa,” exporting agricultural products across the continent and around the world, 5 million people (half its current population) face eminent starvation. Short of adding systematic genocide to the rising tide of political “disappearances” and arrests, it’s hard to imagine the situation getting much worse.

What would you do?

(If I’m not still near-hopelessly behind, I’ll post some of my musings later)

“The more we sweat in peace…

… the less we bleed in war.”  Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit (1900-1990)

Words of wisdom from the first women to hold a cabinet position in India, the first ambassador to the US from independent India and the first female president of the UN general assembly. Reminding me today that there are many ways to work for peace, for change, for progress in the world.

VOTE!

The lines may already be 45 minutes long at 6:15 in the morning, the poll worker may not even ask you for an ID [seriously disturbing…seriously], the amendments may sound like they were written by a 5th grader with a thesaurus but no dictionary, and you may not even be entirely 100% certain which is the lesser of two evils…but the democratic process–and the promise it holds– is still worth celebrating, worth defending, worth participating in.

Plus, you could probably eat for free all day with the rewards Starbuck’s, KrispyKreme, Chipotle, Chick-Fil-A and Ben & Jerry’s are offering for that little red “I voted” sticker.

“Made for Listening”

This one’s from Dewey:

“Just as the biologist can take a bone or two and reconstruct the whole animal, so, if we put before the mind’s eye the ordinay classroom, with its rows of ugly desks placed in geometrical order, crowded together so that there is as little moving room as possible…and add a table, some chairs, the bare walls with possibly a few pictures, we can reconstruct the only educational activity that can possibly go on in such a place. It is all made for listening.

I couldn’t agree more. Being in Paraguay this summer drove this home in a way I have never seen before–rows of students bent silently over notebooks transcribing the constant drone of a lecturer reading from a yellowing textbook. So, if such a classroom is made for listening, what then would my problem-based, amorphous, flexible, energetic, chaotic classroom be made for?

Continue reading

Ugly Constructivism

Read an article for Learning Theory the other day that explored the “many faces of constructivism” — the classic good, bad and ugly. Perhaps tellingly, it was Phillips’ “ugly” face that stuck with me. He says:

“As in all living religions, constructivism has many sects–each of which harbors some distrust of its rivals. This descent into sectarianism, and the accompanying growth in distrust of nonbelievers, is probably the fate of all large-scale movements inspired by interesting ideas.”

Wow. No one could deny that large-scale movements inspired by interesting ideas do have a striking tendency to schism; feminism…environmentalism…the civil rights movement. And each of the resulting factions arguably believes itself to be the true guardian of the interesting idea, and the others to be [to some degree or another] apostate from it.

I guess my question is; what is the alternative? Continue reading